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Little finger position

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Vorago, Nov 21, 2004.

  1. Vorago

    Vorago (((o)))

    Jul 17, 2003
    Antwerp, Belgium
    Alright, I've been working on some hard stuff lately, and I decided to apply a rather strict technique. By this I mean; 1 finger per fret, this has some advantages I think, but I noticed that if I'm using my ring-finger to fret for example the C on the high G string, I notice my little finger tends to bend in towards the backside of the neck.
    Here is a pic of what I mean


    This is not a snapshot of a particular moment ('you know, if you see a pic, you think "what the **** is my finger doing there??") but I do it quite regularly...
    So now I ask, is this a bad thing to do (yes I know, "good technique" is discutable) and will it stop me in eventual development later on?

  2. unregistered

    unregistered unregistered

    Jun 18, 2004
    The angle of your left hand is wrong, and that's what is causing the problem. It will be a problem for you later on, because it will make it much more difficult for you to learn a new piece of music because theres so much motion required in your left hand.

    There are a couple of rules of thumb, pardon the pun, that you can use to break yourself of that habit.

    Here are the rules. Many people will disagree with them, but I've seen a large number of students make significant improvements when they stick to these rules, so they're at least based in reality.

    1. keep the fingers and thumb of the left hand perpendicular to the fingerboard, with each finger covering a fret

    2. Keep the left thumb centered between the middle and ring finger on the underside of the neck. Make yourself practice shifting so that the thumb automatically goes to that position. If the thumb is under or past the index finger, you get poor strength out of the ring and pinky, and it causes the pinky to do whatever the ring finger is going, and vice versa.

    3. Concentrate on keeping the fingers near the string even when they are not fretting. It's a waste of motion to have them sticking way up in the air when not in use. This is a hard one but worth it.

    4. If you play sitting, make sure that your left hand is not supporting the weight of the neck. Your palm should not be in contact with the lower edge of the neck.

    Getting yourself into these habits is not easy, don't get discouraged if it seems unnatural at first. It will make sense after you do it for a while.

    Here are a couple of pictures:

  3. boombang


    Nov 21, 2004
    i have this problem too but little I can do - little finger knuckle was shattered over a year back and made it wonky and weak.

    trying more and more to use it but can't get the angle.
  4. Vorago

    Vorago (((o)))

    Jul 17, 2003
    Antwerp, Belgium
    Thanks for the great reply :) I'm working on it, although its quite hard..

    edit; Could the height of my bass/neck angle have something to do with it?
  5. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    To me, it's a good argument for abandoning the "one finger per fret" approach when you don't need it. If you were playing that with 1, 2 and 4 on the left hand, you've got your little finger ready and waiting near the strings for when you need a bit more of a stretch. 1 and 4 cover the greatest distance between two notes in any particular hand position, with 2 (and sometimes 3) helping out as required to fret intermediate notes or provide support for other fingers.

    The advantage is that your hand can stay relaxed while keeping all the fingers in position to be used when needed (rather than creeping round the back of the neck to wave at the escaping thumb ;) ).

  6. unregistered

    unregistered unregistered

    Jun 18, 2004
    Your bass height and neck angle are also definitely important. The rule of thumb is to have the neck at about a 45 degree angle relative to your body.

    As for the height, it's best to get comfortable with your bass sitting in a chair, with the neck at 45 degrees. Then adjust your strap so that it is holding the bass in that position. When you stand up, you won't have to adjust your playing position.

    In regard to wulf's post, there's no sense wasting time developing two different left hand techniques. If you divide your time evenly between playing with an ad hoc left hand technique (maybe due to incorrect bass position) and practicing finger per fret for the large number of difficult tunes that require it, you will be half as good at each of them as a person who picks the right one and sticks to it. With finger per fret, there is never any guessing about which finger covers which note, and your left hand can do things automatically without any thinking or gymnastics.
  7. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    Exsqueeze me? From a vantage point of almost twenty years playing experience, I'd humbly submit that rigourous adherence to OFPF is not going to do someone any favours. For example, what about playing octaves or tenths? There are plenty of riffs and phrases where OFPF is likely to be very cumbersome.

    It's not like you do away with the need for thinking and gymnastics - you still have to decide which hand position to play something in and when to shift.

    Re-read my previous post. I'm not saying that OFPF should never be used but that it is advantageous to adopt a more flexible approach and consider ideas such as how to keep your fingers close to the strings and your whole hand relaxed.

  8. CJK84


    Jan 22, 2004
    Maria Stein, OH
    For most passages, I use only 1, 2, and 4 of my left hand.

    Ring finger certainly comes in handy, but I do not use it a lot.

    I find OFPF difficult when near the nut.

    I'm wondering if maybe I hold the bass too horizontal - I only ever play standing up if that somehow makes a difference.

    Good luck.
  9. unregistered

    unregistered unregistered

    Jun 18, 2004
    Part of implementing one finger per fret is recognizing it's purpose. Good left hand technique is intended to make the most common kinds of playing require the least amount of effort, and the instrument is specifically designed so that major, minor and dominant shapes lay under the hand in such a way that they can often be covered by four fingers.

    Obviously there are exceptions. Forget octaves and tenths though, how about sixths? If you adhered strictly to finger-per-fret, you'd have a difficult time playing those too, and if you play many walking lines, there are many half steps that can only sanely be played by stretching 1 or 4.

    However, the point of finger-per-fret is not that you should treat the neck like a grid with rigorous rules for every note, making things intentionally difficult for yourself. The real purpose is just that when you are playing, it makes the most sense to keep your hand in such a positition that overall movement, including shifting. is minimized, There is no tradeoff to doing this because unless you're holding your bass wrong, holding your hand in that position shouldn't be stressful. The only times I've found that finger-per-fret made something harder was when I later discovered that I'd been playing something in the wrong position.

    In my experience, the real benefits of being meticulous about my left hand technique didn't become obvious until much later in my practice when I started to transcribe really challenging pieces of music. In those situations, having vague rules about whether 3 or 4 is going to be covering notes means your hand can wind up in a slightly different position each time you play a piece, making it a lot harder to memorize.
  10. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    unregistered said:
    I'd go with that but also add in the requirement that the hand is allowed to stay relaxed. That's why I prefer to think in terms of variable hand span, often covering three frets between my first and fourth fingers, rather than always seeking to find a four fret span. When figuring out a line I do experiment with different approaches - that will include what can be done with OFPF but also not exclude other approaches.

    For example, with Lovesjones, we cover Rocksteady by Aretha Franklin. For most of the song, I'm repeating round a riff that bounces around on a low A and then plays a lead up of F# G G# at the end of each bar. Since I have to hold that down for extended periods, I normally play most of it with the little finger fretting the E string at the fifth fret and the rest of the hand in a relaxed closed position, supporting the string and applying some muting to add to the articulation of the line. I'll then shift down to play F# G G# with 1, 2 and 4 and then shift back up as I return to A at the start of the next bar. I can keep that going for hours, whereas I find OFPF more tiring. I don't need additional speed and the shift helps emphasise the two parts of the riff.

    Later on in the song, there's a tag that has me playing a D, dropping down to an F# and starting to run back up. I do play that OFPF - it's only four or eight bars long, covers a span from F# - A on the E string and B - D on the A string and needs to move a bit more smoothly between notes.

    That's all there is to the song - two riffs, one of which includes a small shift down and back.... easy on the hands and not a challenge to memorise.

    Vorago - in the picture you posted, what's the riff you're playing and what's your next note. If you spell out the notes and a rough idea of the rhythm and speed, I'll make a stab at suggesting how I'd finger it using my rules about finger positioning.

  11. Dynna


    Oct 23, 2004
    The best exercise I've EVER seen for finger control is a barre exercise that Gary Willis gave me.

    The notes (in tab) look like this....

    ---5---5---5---5-- etc...

    You finger this by barring the 5's with your pinky. The key is HOW you barre it. Keep the second knuckle on your pinky bent, and if you can, bend the first knuckle BACK to barre the notes. When it comes time to play the open string and fret the D string alone, your first knuckle pops into a bent position and will clear the G string allowing it to ring clearly. At NO TIME does your finger ever leave the D string.

    Now I hear some of you saying all this popping and holding is kind of extreme, but I say that there's no reason to have to play it all that hard. The key here is control. Jst get the motions down, and only play as hard as you need to to get the note to ring true. This exercise takes care of any locking knuckles you have, and will give you an extreme measure of control over any flagging fingers in a short period of time.

    Do the exercise for a few minutes each day with ALL of your fingers.
  12. Dynna


    Oct 23, 2004
    Another Willis thing is play major scale roots off of either the SECOND or FOURTH fingers, and minor scale roots off of either the FIRST or FOURTH fingers.

    This allows you to easily visualize all of the notes in the scales, and hit passing tones by reaching one fret on either side of the position you're in.

    The only time you shift is when you change keys(and even that is only a one fret shift at most), or have to do a lot of octaves on a four string.
  13. unregistered

    unregistered unregistered

    Jun 18, 2004
    Another point that I'd make about finger per fret is that it is not a technique for playing, it is a technique for learning.

    like wulf, I can give you probably 20 tunes that I play where there is no discernable left hand technique at all, It is all ad-hoc. That's cool. It doesn't matter how I play it, as long as it sounds good, and I might even deviate from the fpf idea so I can play a note where it sounds a little better. I might not even finger it the same way throughout the song. This is common for a lot of bass grooves. I never had to practice the fingering because the groove was not difficult enough to require concentrating on the fingering.

    On the other hand, lets think about transcription or something like playing etudes. My instructor recently assigned me a piece that was written for the classical guitar. It's maybe three pages of music, and I'd like to have it memorized in maybe two weeks. There is a virtual infinity of possible fingerings for a piece of music like this, particularly if I'm not attached to any left hand strategy. But I have a strategy. It's fpf, and rule #1 of fpf is to identity the key signature and choose position accordingly.

    So now I have a starting point. Then I practice the first measure of music. If I am already stretching a lot, maybe I should think about changing positions. If I hear a lot of rattles or fret noise, it is usually because I am stretching too much. If everything is cool, I play that measure over and over until I have the 1,2,3,4 committed to memory. Then on to measure two, and so forth, and tomorrow I see how much I've remembered and work on from there.

    What I am doing here is training my hand to reproduce a series of motions. Raising or lowering a finger is the simplest of motions. Shifting the hand is also pretty simple, although there's a little more muscle memory involved.

    Moving a finger sideways is the most complex motion because it requires fine movements, rotation of the writst and hand, and adjustments in tension. As a result, they're harder to memorize. Also, you'll notice when you're playing a hard piece of music, you get the most flubbed fingerings from the stretches.

    The hardest part of learning a challenging piece of music is keeping the set of individual motions in your head and muscles, which you achieve through repetition. To get the repetition going, you have to be able to do the same thing exactly the same way, every time you play it. When you can break a piece of music down into 1 2 3 4s and shifts, stretching the 1 or 4 where necessary, and cheating where you must, you have a much better chance of being able to keep it in memory. But if every time you go repeat a measure, you have to remember which finger it was you used to get a particular note, you're doomed.

    I can tell you, as someone who spent years and years trying to transcribe difficult pieces of music, oblivious to the fact that all that stretching and rotating was making things hard, that it is a big waste of time trying to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, of the technique that was established for the guitar and double bass about 300 years ago. What might have cut it when I was trying to learn Higher Ground is not going to cut it when I'm trying to learn the first chorus solo of Giant Steps, because it's a struggle to remember it at all, much less play it at speed.

    So anyway, you have to use your head to know when something is not working, but its also foolish to disregard what the masters can teach you about technique. For my money, I'll take Jaco every time :)

    As for the etude, it took about a month of hard practice to get it down, and I still have to play it a couple of times a week to keep it up, but as long as I keep my hands position the way they were when I learned it, the only really tough parts are the stretches :)
  14. Matt Ides

    Matt Ides

    May 12, 2004
    Minneapolis, MN
    So upright technique w/ EBG...interesting.

    OFPF works just fine for me, everything lays under you hand nicely for EBG. Although you don't have to be married to it.
  15. Matt Ides

    Matt Ides

    May 12, 2004
    Minneapolis, MN
    From what I can tell from the pic your LH is at a weird angle. Thumb should be in the middle of the neck, not riding over the top, plus you fingers should be more a less in a staight line, not riding downward.

    Are you able to play fast passages clearly?
  16. Joe P

    Joe P

    Jul 15, 2004
    Milwaukee, WI
    Man, this thread is rich with good information!

    Another thing I think about as I look at Vorego's illustration is how arched the fingers are. I made some real improvements on several fronts when I started flattening-out my fingers some. For one thing, I generally use my left hand for muting free strings that are below the one I'm fretting (and thumb-trailing for the lower-pitched strings above). I mean I'm not fretting way back in the middle of my finger print or anything, and my middle finger usually has quite a bit of arch because of the length. I sometimes have to remember to arch fingers more when I want to leave one note ring while I play another though, because I get pretty consistant and habitual left-hand 'slop muting' now. Once I started practicing more strict muting, my sound really seemed to start tightening-up.

    Like these other guys are saying - there are plenty of times to not use strict one-per (How about the bluesy-ish, descending "root-octave, root-m7, root-sharp6" sort of thing, or when I fake the intro keyboard part for Walking on the Sun by playing triad inversions classical guitar style up near the octave on the A-D-G strings), but it's so valuable to have that one-finger-per muscle memory working for me at all the neck positions for a given key. Now that I'm starting to get that together it seems so much easier to learn new songs, because I'm not reinventing fingering afresh for each tune, and also because I can better picture the now-standardized-in-my-mind notes and intervals.

  17. Vorago

    Vorago (((o)))

    Jul 17, 2003
    Antwerp, Belgium
    Cheers mates, great replies, I never thought I'd get so much info :) I'm restyling my lefthand technique now btw, and I have to say OFPF works pretty fine, the only things that are troubling me are the lowest positions (fret1 to 4), to keep that angle there with your thumb centered under the middlefinger is rather impossible, or just painfull. But I have so say, it pays of, my movement is minimised and I get my runs cleaner as I used to. The hardest part is letting your thumb move together with the other fingers. I have a tendency (and other bassplayers whom I've spoken to) to fix my thumb at the back of the neck: example: I'm playing something at 5th and 7th fret, and I need to do a fill at the 8th and 10th fret, my thumb doesn't move along with the rest. I'm working on that thought. I think my rather faulty technique is founded in my guitarhistory, where it doesn't mather alot how you place your left hand.
    Thanks again, and keep the good advise coming :)
  18. Ozzyman


    Jul 21, 2004
    ummm... Your left hand should NEVER hurt when is position (unless playing a fast riff where it can burn alittle). Try changing your wrist angle to be straighter. You don't want to get carpal tunnel :eek:
    BTW the burning you feel when playing a fast riff is microtears in yur muscles which are good because they'll make your muscles stronger.
  19. Vorago

    Vorago (((o)))

    Jul 17, 2003
    Antwerp, Belgium
    Yeah I know, i just meant, that it is tricky to have your fingers in a perpendicular (?) postion all the way down the neck.
  20. Rich600


    Nov 22, 2004
    i had this problem aswell, i worked on keeping my left hand perpendicular to the fret board and it worked, took time but it worked and i have a better technique because of it...BUT there ones thing ive noticed, your bass looks way too high, if you drop it quite a bit your left hand will be more level with the fret as you'll need it to support the neck more.